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John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

John Armstrong: Mystery over leaked GCSB report

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Rebecca Kitteridge's report paints the bureau as less On Her Majesty's Secret Service and more like Gliding On. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Rebecca Kitteridge's report paints the bureau as less On Her Majesty's Secret Service and more like Gliding On. Photo / Mark Mitchell

The report by the secretary of the Cabinet into the workings of the Government Communications Security Bureau is as dry as one of 007's trademark dry martinis.

The Bond similarities end there. Rebecca Kitteridge's 72-page report paints a rather different version of Spookdom than Ian Fleming's - a place in which Aston Martins do not sit idling in the bureau's basement garage and where raw recruits cannot look forward to toting their trusty Berettas on assignment in some tropical clime.

The closest equivalent to "M" is the ludicrously overworked, over-titled but all influential "deputy director of mission enablement".

Miss Moneypenny is Bill English in drag. The fiscal squeeze applied by the finance minister would do Oddjob proud. The GCSB is like any other government agency. There is no money, not even pennies.

Indeed, Kitteridge's report paints the bureau as less On Her Majesty's Secret Service and more like Gliding On. Her recommendations for lifting performance are solid and sensible, if at times overcoated with managerial-speak.

Thus the GCSB will implement a "compliance framework" for adhering to the law which will include "monitoring compliance and detecting non-compliance through targeted internal audit and robust external oversight".

When it comes to the oversight, Kitteridge recommends a welcome beefing-up of the watchdog role of the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security to more like the "very muscular" Australian equivalent.

She also suggests more information on the bureau's performance be given to the other supposed oversight mechanism - Parliament's intelligence security committee - as well as published in the bureau's currently anaemic annual report.

Otherwise, the bulk of her report deals with rewriting the muddled law covering the GCSB and reforming internal structures and procedures - the latter being less than gripping stuff.

That and the report's mid-afternoon release had Opposition politicians spending most of the day musing on who leaked it in advance.

The finger was almost universally pointed at the Prime Minister's office on the grounds that the continuing Dotcom-GCSB-Ian Fletcher-John Key farrago is blotting out everything else the Government is doing.

The Prime Minister needs to bury the whole business once and for all.

The other reason for being suspicious is that such documents are kept under very tight wraps pre-release with copies limited in number and access strictly controlled and monitored as to who sees what.

Key has strenuously denied leaking the report, saying it is the last thing he would want to be bothered with while in China.

An even more rigorous denial came from English as acting prime minister.

He gave an assurance to Parliament that the copy of the report which had been leaked had not come from Key's office.

English had better be right. If he is found to be wrong and has misled Parliament, he will be in big trouble - and the Government will be more than shaken, if not stirred.

- NZ Herald

John Armstrong

John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

Herald political correspondent John Armstrong has been covering politics at a national level for nearly 30 years. Based in the Press Gallery at Parliament in Wellington, John has worked for the Herald since 1987. John was named Best Columnist at the 2013 Canon Media Awards and was a previous winner of Qantas media awards as best political columnist. Prior to joining the Herald, John worked at Parliament for the New Zealand Press Association. A graduate of Canterbury University's journalism school, John began his career in journalism in 1981 on the Christchurch Star. John has a Masters of Arts degree in political science from Canterbury.

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